9 Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Trader Joe’s


It’s basically impossible to go into a Trader Joe’s with the intention of only getting one item. Without fail you’ll wind up with a whole cart full random food. TJ’s has a reputation for affordable prices while h0lding products to a certain standard. All of the grocery chain’s little quirks make it a consumer favorite. Trader Joe’s seems to have it all figured out. Here are 10 weird things you didn’t know about the affordable food store.


1. There’s a real Trader Joe.

You’ll be happy to know that Trader Joe isn’t a fictional character. There’s a real Trader Joe and his name is Joe Coulombe. He’s said to have developed the concept for the store when he was on vacation in the Caribbean. At the time the chain began in the 1960s, tiki culture was big and Trader Vic’s was at its prime with 25 locations around the world. Joe noticed Americans were traveling more and coming home with the desire to eat foods they couldn’t find in supermarkets. And then TJ’s was born.

2. You can sample anything you want with permission.

With all of the options you have at Trader Joe’s it can be overwhelming to make decisions. Luckily you can sample anything in the store before you buy. Just ask any Hawaiin shirt-clad employees if they can open up a snack for you. There are a few exceptions like pasta, cake mix, frozen items and certain liquors. Shoppers often will ask to try fruits, cheeses and any of the snacks. In case you need a refresher on what cookie butter tastes like before you commit, all you have to do is ask.

3. A lot of TJ’s products are actually name brands.

One of the biggest reasons behind Trader Joe’s success is its private label items; however, Eater reports that “as a private brand, the California-based Trader Joe’s orders most of its products from third-party manufacturers.” These brands agree to sell their items under the Trader Joe’s label and then they’re sworn to secrecy. TJ’s then sells those brand name products for a fraction of the cost they’re usually sold. One example would be their store brand pita chips, which are actually the naked flavor of Stacy’s Pita Chips. The Trader Joe’s brand go for $1.99 a bag where Stacy’s is closer to $4.

4. There’s no internal PA system.

If you’ve ever noticed the ringing bells at Trader Joe’s, that’s actually its internal PA system. The bell doesn’t ring for the hell of it, it’s all part of a secret TJ’s Morse Code. One ring opens up another register, two rings mean there’s a question at checkout and three rings means a manager is requested.


 5. There’s a no-questions-asked return policy.

The Trader Joe’s return policy is “Try it. We think you’ll like it. If you don’t, bring it back for a full refund.” If you can’t see yourself eating the item, just return it and you’ll get all of your money back with no questions asked. TJ’s wants you to experiment and sample everything risk-free.

6. There’s a hidden toy in every store.

To keep the kids entertained while you get your shopping out of the way, there’s apparently a hidden toy and a plastic lobster hidden inside every store. Let your kids go on a hunt while you’re getting all of your free samples.

7. The store has sold close to a billion bottles of its cheapest wine.

Charles Shaw Wine, Trader Joe’s cheapest wine, which is also known as the “two buck chuck,” has been in the stores for over 10 years and close to a billion bottles have been sold. You can buy this cheap wine by the bottle or by the case. The price is the same no matter what the varietal is.

8. All of the artwork is created by staff members.

Each Trader Joe’s location is meant to represent its respective neighborhood. The signs and murals usually make references to the surrounding area’s culture. Every sign you see is hand done by one of the store’s own crew members. The sign artists also spend their time doing regular tasks like organizing and manning the registers. Trader Joe’s continues to invest in original store art to make each store personalized.

9. Every store donates millions of dollars to food banks every year.

At the end of the day, TJ’s always makes sure to give back. In 2016, Trader Joe’s donated more than $341 million worth of products to food banks, homeless shelters and nonprofits, up from $321 million in 2015. The grocery store chain has always made it a mission to donate products that aren’t fit for sale but are fit for consumption. Each store also has a donation coordinator who is responsible for working with local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens in their communities to facilitate donations every day of the week.